If there was a surprise to Black Monday, it's that it wasn't black at all. Gray and overcast was more like it. Only one head coach was fired, Cleveland's Eric Mangini in a move that was anticipated for weeks. Otherwise, it was quiet on all fronts.
But that doesn't mean the coast is clear. John Fox is gone in Carolina. San Francisco and Denver are wide open. And nobody knows what's next for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, Tony Sparano in Miami or Tom Cable in Oakland.
Still, Monday was remarkably quiet for a day that typically is not. Jack Del Rio survived a fizzle to the finish in Jacksonville. Gary Kubiak returns in Houston, despite losing eight of his last 10. Tom Coughlin is back in New York, where the Giants missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Marvin Lewis gains a contract extension in Cincinnati when it appeared he was gone. And Leslie Frazier just moved from Minnesota's interim head coach to a full-time position, agreeing Monday to a three-year deal with an option.
So what does it all mean? An NFL source several weeks ago told me that if there was little or no movement among head coaches it would signal that owners are convinced there will be a work stoppage this year. If, however, there were a flurry of firings, he predicted that it would portend good news for CBA talks, with owners confident there would be no interruption in activity.
"Of course," he said Monday, "that didn't take into account the four coaches we had fired during the season."
OK, so those are four off the books. But only Mangini joined them, and that was expected. The poor guy was doomed from the start. Team president Mike Holmgren didn't hire him, his roster was short on talent, he had a zillion injuries, he played half the year with a third-string quarterback and he drew the NFL's toughest schedule. In the end, all combined to drive Mangini from his second job in three seasons, and now we're left to wonder who's next.
So let's start, and I'll open with Tom Cable in Oakland. There's just too much talk about his future not to believe there's something there. I heard it during the season. I hear it more now. I know, it makes no sense. Cable pushed the Raiders to their first non-losing season in eight years. Heck, it was the first time in eight years they were better than 5-11, and for this Cable could get fired? Life is not fair. If he goes, make offensive coordinator Hue Jackson the likely successor.
In Miami, Sparano looks like another coach who's running out of time. The man who hired him (Bill Parcells) is no longer around, but a new owner is -- and Stephen Ross is someone who lives in a world of glitz, glamour and celebrities ... and on that basis alone Sparano would be in trouble.
|The Browns let Eric Mangini go, making him the only head coach who's ushered out on Black Monday. (Getty Images)|
San Francisco and Denver are open, and don't ask me for a wish list beyond Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. Virtually everyone I talk to tells me Harbaugh is going to the University of Michigan and that San Francisco and Denver are only acting to push the ante up. I don't know about that. What I do know is that Denver should do what it should have done two years ago and hire a defensive coach to run the club. For too long, the Broncos have been one-dimensional, able to put points on the board but unable to stop anyone.
Remember when they were 6-0 last season? That's because then-defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had the Broncos playing so well they allowed an NFL-low 11.0 points per game. But then the Broncos lost eight of their last 10, and look no further than the defense for an explanation. It was shredded for 258 points -- or an average of 25.8 per.
Take the hint, Denver. Hire someone to straighten out the defense ... someone like John Fox, if, that is, the Browns don't hire him first.
The 49ers, on the other hand, should move to the other side of the ball and find someone with an offensive background -- particularly with the club unable to settle on a starting quarterback. Gruden would be perfect here, except he won't consider the 49ers. The 49ers might look at former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, who started his career with the club and would consider a return to coaching under the right circumstances ("I hear his name mentioned around the 49ers a lot these days," one NFC assistant told me), or Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached in San Francisco under Steve Mariucci.
Yeah, I know, Mornhinweg was a flop as a head coach in Detroit. Tell me who wasn't in the Matt Millen era. Mornhinweg is back on the radar with the resurrection of Michael Vick, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him interview with his former team.
That takes us to Carolina, where the Panthers would be wise to hire someone out of the John Fox mold -- meaning a guy who builds the team around sound defense, a solid rushing attack and special teams. Arizona assistant head coach Russ Grimm would be an ideal candidate, but I can also see the Panthers sticking with a defensive assistant like Fox. That's why it makes sense that San Diego's Ron Rivera and the Giants' Perry Fewell --- both defensive coordinators -- are first through the door.
What doesn't make sense is that so many NFL coaches living on the edge are still around, with no firing squads in sight. But the week just started, and this isn't a race. While Black Monday claimed only one victim, I guarantee others will follow. What I don't know is when.
"To me," said one well-known agent, "it's always about the following week, not Black Monday. Coaches spend this week either reviewing the season or getting time off. So I'd pay more attention to what happens next week."
Got it. We will.